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    Archive for the 'usability' Category

    User Research: Undergraduate Prospectus

    By Rik Williams, on 18 March 2015

    I’m , Web Content and User Experience Manager at UCL. I’m responsible for leading user research activities which help make sure that ucl.ac.uk meets the real needs of its customers and the university.

    On the 2nd and 3rd of March WAMS and PAMS headed to City Interaction Lab to assess the usability of the new Undergraduate Prospectus branch of the website. Recruiting students is an essential function for the UCL site. Indeed the Prospective Students section underpins at least 26% of all visits to ucl.ac.uk, even though it only has ±1% of the webpages.

    We found that the new site is generally effective, and improves upon its predecessor, but that there aspects that we can make easier to use for the customer.

    What we did

    We recruited seven participants who were representative of the cross-section of our prospective undergraduate student customers. We set scenarios which were mapped to the principal tasks, user journeys and content areas across the Prospective Students site. For example we made sure that we tested not only the new Undergraduate site but also those which support it, like Accommodation and Visit UCL. We asked our participants to think-out-loud as they completed the scenarios using a range of devices, like tablet computers and smartphones.

    Usability test

    What we learned

    The PAMS team observed a video feed of the testing sessions in an observation room (ably facilitated by Alex Pardoe from ISD). During these sessions they recorded how they thought the websites helped or frustrated the participants as they attempted to complete the scenarios. These observations where then grouped by type and severity in a short workshop after the last research session.

    Ranking Workshop

    Three things that worked well

    A representative quote:

    A good-looking website on top of the fact that it’s a really helpful website discussing pretty much everything I could think of about the course itself.

    — Participant 3, during the end of test interview
    1. Finding a degree course (A-Z, Subject Area) worked very well. The process of finding collections of suitable degree programmes was very efficient and intuitive. There is scope to improve aspects course search to make it more consistent and effective, but in general it worked very well.
    2. The degree template has to structure and present a complex and voluminous range of content for a programme. This template is effective, in particular its primary navigationn which links to each of the sections on the page. This was especially true on mobile devices where this navigation responded well to the screen size of the devices used.
    3. Finding entry requirements for a degree is an essential task but the content needed is very complex. This is because our customers come from all over the world and many education systems. The mechanism for grade equivalences is discoverable, easy to use and better than (most) of the competition.

    Three things that need improving

    A representative quote:

    I feel very frustrated to be honest. I [just] don’t know why I’m being asked all this information. I don’t feel very comfortable about it.

    — Participant 2, during the CRM form completion task
    1. a hierarchical approach to content design undermined user journeys. For example: it is very difficult to move between the undergraduate website and the accommodation website. Future projects will need to consider user journeys by making sure that they are defined, join-up and are achievable.
    2. users tended to satisfice when looking for information. This meant that they often didn’t find the optimal content for their tasks. For example: they would find a selection of scholarships on a degree page but miss the link the index of all scholarships.
    3. the CRM form, which allows prospective students to register their interest in UCL, is very hard to complete. This is because of its complexity, scale and the need to create an account with UCL.

    PAMS and WAMS will be working on implementing solutions iteratively as we work on the Prospective Students site.

    Find out more

    Contact WAMS if you would like to learn more about how effective your website or application might be, along with the other services we offer:

    post-WebNet-post

    By Web and Mobile Services (WAMS) , on 11 December 2014

    For those who attended WebNet on December 3rd, 2014, those who wanted to attend but couldn’t and also those who never thought of attending:

    1. LectureCast of WebNet December 3rd, 2014 – with speaker Dan Jackson (WAMS) and Paul Boag (Headscape) – 55 minutes.
    2. Paul Boag’s Digital Transformation for HE (pdf to download)
    3. User-testing website – to get users video-ed whilst testing
    4. Free user-testing website ‘Peek’ with generic tasks
    5. Crazy Egg website – to see where people click on your site
    6. Don’t make me think by Steve Krug – if you have time to read a short book…
    7. Hemingway App – to help you edit long paragraphs

    Paul Boag at WebNet 2014 at UCL

    WebNet: Paul Boag – Wednesday, Dec 3rd at 2pm

    By Web and Mobile Services (WAMS) , on 17 November 2014

    Web & Mobile Services are inviting you to this term’s WebNet on December 3rd , 2014.
    It will take place at 2pm – 4pm in Lecture Theatre B17 in the basement of 1 – 19 Torrington Place.

    We are  very excited to confirm Paul Boag, digital strategist as our main speaker.

    Paul Boag is one of the founders of Headscape, a prolific blogger widely known for his very practical and sometimes controversial blog posts, who tweets regularly at https://twitter.com/boagworld and has over 20 years’ experience of helping organisations manage digital change.

    We have asked Paul to touch on a number of issues relevant to web Editors in his talk about ‘Digital Strategy’ such as content strategy and user testing, but are waiting to get the title of his talk confirmed.

    Dan Jackson from WAMS will be updating you on Indigo, the design language created by Web & Mobile Services.

    We will be advertising the event shortly – no need to book.

    Please look out for news, both in ‘The Week at UCL’ and on the ISD website.

    Looking forward to seeing you on December 3rd.

    Web & Mobile Services

    CMS Planning and Prioritising

    By Dan Jackson, on 5 July 2013

    Being somewhat shamefaced that we haven’t blogged for 15 months, it’s tempting to start with a list of excuses for the pregnant pause (big organisational changes, workload – the usual suspects.) However, instead of being introspective & retrospective, this post is about looking forward to where we want to be – and we’re certainly doing a lot to get there; constructing a digital strategy and the governance framework that needs to go with it; thinking about how to position our Web and Mobile Services team as a ‘Digital Agency for UCL'; working with Mark Boulton Design on a common Design Language that will enable us to develop visually consistent, responsive websites for the University; undertaking a rigorous process of service improvement.

    Our CMS review process

    Another critical activity that’s well underway is a review of our Content Management System (CMS). We know that the performance and scalability of our existing CMS is a concern, and that we’ve got work to do in order to get it up-to-date and make the underlying server and application stack more performant and resilient. From a recent survey of our CMS users, we also know that the content editing process is often a frustrating one; performance issues and  poor usability are frequent causes for complaint.

    More strategically, however, we’ve also been thinking about what functional and non-functional capabilities we want from a CMS, and how to enable ourselves to be future friendly; after all, it’s impossible to establish whether our current CMS is fit for purpose until we we know what we want it to do – both now, and in the future.

    CMS planning workshop

    To assist us in this process of CMS analysis, and to help validate our decisions, we’re working with the digital consultants and CMS experts from J.Boye. Over the summer we’ll be eliciting the opinions of a representative pool of UCL’s content editors, but we kicked off our investigations this week with a workshop for senior stakeholders from Information Services and Communications & Marketing to review CMS best practices and trends, and to define and prioritise our digital / CMS activities with some MoSCow analysis.


    Our priorities

    CMS worksop: prioritising

    So what did we conclude?At the top of our prioritised  list of “must haves” was a mix of activities that must happen in order to support our process of change and improvement, and a set of features that our CMS must offer as core capabilities:

    1. Digital Strategy & Governance (inc. senior management understanding of importance, central web funding)
    2. UX (optimal UX for all user groups, intuitive CMS editing interface)
    3. Mobile (responsive design, mobile first)
    4. Performance (inc. need to define performance budget & establish fit-for-purpose server architecture)
    5. Content & Metadata (structured for re-use, social/CMS integration)
    6. Compliance with corporate branding
    7. Security
    8. Actionable measurability
    9. CMS flexibility & extensibility
    10. System / data integration & interoperability

    CMS worksop: prioritisingMeanwhile, our “should haves” and “could haves” listed those items that we felt we should strive for, but that either may not be possible in the short term, or were not perceived to be core capabilities for a CMS:

    1. One UCL website with a global IA
    2. Standardisation of design & development processes / assets
    3. Focus on search
    4. Maturity of CMS vendor
    5. Controlled flexibility (controlled by Web & Mobile Services, flexible for editors)
    6. Capable of being UCL’s single CMS
    7. Skilled, professional content editors (federated model)
    8. Integrated, central DAM (digital asset management) system
    9. Simple, usable, integrated authentication
    10. CMS technology appropriate to UCL
    11. Scalable solution
    12. URL namespace defined
    13. Content review capability

    It was a good, well facilitated session (thanks Brian), and was really encouraging to see Directors & Heads working together to ponder on our CMS requirements and to deliberate on, and help prioritise, those tasks and issues at the heart of our web service improvement plans. We’ll be using this information to inform our Digital Strategy and CMS decision-making processes – watch this space.

    What's a good URL?

    By Nick Dawe, on 4 August 2010

    It may seem like an unimportant issue, but web editors might be interested in reading a recent post from CSS-Tricks detailing good practice for writing URLs:

    I was particularly struck by the URI ‘speech-friendly’ test: Can you easily say a URL down the phone to someone else, or do you have to pause between characters to say whether they’re lower/upper case? Do you have to describe any funny punctuation marks that appear? Is the URI unhelpfully long, and indeed does it even make any sense?

    The Pros and Cons of Website Tickers

    By Nick Dawe, on 8 October 2009

    There have recently been a spate of new websites at UCL using ‘news tickers’ – banners of short headlines that  emerge across a space on a web page. These vary from each headline character appearing at short time intervals, to entire headlines slowly scrolling into view.

    It seems that they’ve now been made particularly popular by the BBC News website’s use of such a ticker at the top of the page, showing ‘latest’ news stories. The new UCL homepage also uses a similar ticker which displays the most recent news articles on the site.

    UCL news ticker

    So why write a blog article on the ‘pros and cons’ of tickers? Surely tickers are consistently useful ways of disseminating new information to regular visitors of a site?

    Tickers indeed are very useful for this, and for sites such as the BBC and UCL homepages which are guaranteed to have thousands of visitors who often revisit the site, they may well help those users quickly see what new features and happenings have taken place since their last visit. But what about the downsides?

    1. Distracting users from key content

    Have you ever been reading web page content when suddenly, something changes in the corner of your eye, and you look to see what’s happened? After realising that it’s just the ticker/animated .gif/annoying Flash advert, you go back to reading the content. Except you can’t find where you left off, and have to spend a few moments just trying to get back to the last sentence you read, and oh look, what just moved up at the top of the page?

    Any content that moves on a page is going to cause some kind of distraction for visitors who are trying to read any length of content on a page. If a webpage is full of short chunks (such as the BBC and UCL home pages) this isn’t going to be such a big issue. But as soon as you introduce a few paragraphs, and actually expect your visitors to read them, tickers may not be such a good idea.

    Another solution to this, again implemented in the UCL home page, is to allow users to actually pause the ticker if indeed it is causing too great a distraction for them.

    2. Difficulties for users’ reading habits

    In user tests for the 1997 sun.com website redesign, usability expert Jakob Nielsen got typical target users to look at different aspects of the website. One aspect was that of a scrolling ticker, which received negative feedback. Some users mentioned that ‘they were hard to read and time-consuming to interpret'; and that they ‘kept missing the the beginning of the text and thus had difficulty understanding what the message was about’.

    If you’re trying to communicate vital information to users, is a ticker going to be the most suitable method, bearing in mind some users (including many dyslexics) will have real trouble reading from moving text? Some tickers, like the UCL homepage’s, will not suffer from this issue so badly, because the text itself isn’t moving. Others, in which full sentences pass from one side to the other, will certainly cause problems.

    3. CPU

    This is only something we’d noticed recently in our work on the UCL home page. There are quite a number of JavaScript tickers available that actually suck up an awful lot of CPU. One ticker we played with lately would actually bring our office PC’s CPU to 100% every time we opened the webpage in Firefox, which was quite irritating. Tickers already set up in the Silva CMS shouldn’t cause such problems, but if you do try to use other ticker scripts, it’s well worth checking this before implementing them!

    Overall, tickers can have great potential for alerting regular users to news and changes to a website. However, it’s worth spending some time considering whether they will actually be of use to your website’s key user targets, or whether it will cause them more irritation than genuine help.

    How we read on the web (we don't)

    By Nick Dawe, on 30 September 2008

    Common sense would insist that the way someone reads from a computer screen is going to be different from how they would read from paper. Indeed, many web pages throughout UCL are written in ways more easily digestible for the casual web surfer (shorter chunks of content with more concise information). Users can hopefully get to the exact information they need, and read it, in as short a time as possible.

    However a recent study by Jakob Nielsen suggests that the way users read content is far more ‘magpie’ like and perhaps even lazier, than many of us had ever guessed.

    Chronicle website screenshot

    Nielsen found that as readers ‘read’ hundreds of webpages, they read in a bizarre pattern, similar to the letter ‘F’. To quote the Chronicle of Higher Education article:

    At the top, users read all the way across, but as they proceed their descent quickens and horizontal sight contracts, with a lowdown around the middle of the page. Near the bottom, eyes move almost vertically, the lower-right corner of the page largely ignored.

    With this in mind, perhaps we need to take a completely new look at the way that we present all kinds of content on our webpages. Can we really assume that casual users visiting a page will read the majority of its contents, or is it more likely that they’ll read the beginning and then look out for particular keywords?

    Read the full article at:

    http://chronicle.com/free/v55/i04/04b01001.htm